Health system C-suites' buzzword for 2024

The last year, 2023, was the year of artificial intelligence in healthcare. Top executives from hospitals and health systems large and small dove deep into ways AI could make their organizations more efficient and elevate patient care.

While AI will stay a top priority over the next year, a new buzz word is on the tip of health system C-suite executives' tongues: partnerships. But not just any partnerships. Unique, innovative and outside-the-box partnerships will be essential for hospitals to thrive.

"While the pandemic pushed so many of us in the healthcare system to the brink, it also catalyzed innovation and transformed the way we deliver care in so many ways," Eugene Woods, CEO of Advocate Health in Charlotte, N.C., told Becker's. "Looking ahead to 2024, the Advocate Health leadership team is doubling down on innovation and continuing to cultivate strong partnerships across industries, while we strengthen our financial position and drive significant synergy savings consistent with our pledges to make care more affordable. We intend to pioneer out-of-the-box approaches to harness the full potential of new technologies, whether that's AI or deepening our partnerships with robotics and other leading-edge companies to bring inventive approaches to the bedside faster."

The next year will bring many of the same challenges as 2023 of staffing shortages and increased patient volume as baby boomers age, and Patty Donley, vice president of Wellspan Health in York, Pa., and president of Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffren, N.Y., sees health systems embracing transformational change to strengthen the workforce and future of healthcare delivery.

"By advancing the use of technology, leveraging alternate care delivery models including genomic care pathways, and initiating innovative partnerships, health systems can improve access challenges and workforce shortages to more effectively meet the needs of the communities we serve," Ms. Donley told Becker's.

The health systems able to financially recover in the next year will often need to reduce services and re-evaluate the scope of their current services to stay viable, Ronda Lehman, president and CEO of Mercy Health - Lima (Ohio) told Becker's. Health systems are evaluating their hospital portfolios and realizing each hospital can't offer all services, but rather can leverage technology to share virtual expertise and build programs to remotely monitor patients.

"I hope that we will see additional alignments where health systems are leveraging not just their own strengths, but also looking to other less likely partners to collaborate with," said Ms. Lehman. "We need to continue to meet consumers where they are at, and relentlessly continue to drive to incorporate 'health' into peoples' everyday lives rather than allowing barriers to obtaining care."

In some cases, health systems are partnering with non-traditional healthcare companies moving into the healthcare space, including Amazon, Best Buy and Costco. These relationships leverage expertise from the retail and tech world, including consumer experience expertise and supply chain efficiency, to match with the health system's core competency of care delivery.

"These partnerships will create renewed need for the ability to share data and transformation safely and securely so patients experience seamless and safe care delivery," said Karyn Baum, chief transformation officer of Essentia Health in Duluth, Minn. "I hope that continued focus on value-based care and population health will lead to these partnerships, and appropriate AI use, beginning to improve life expectancy again and allow us to make up some of the ground we lost over the past few years."

Traditional healthcare providers may also become new disruptors. More care is moving outpatient and ambulatory surgery centers are poised to elevate in the value-based care model as the high quality, low cost providers in the region. Brad Martin, associate director of care innovation and community improvement programs at UC Health in Aurora, Colo., sees ASCs representing an increasingly large market share, possibly upending referral sources for major revenue-generating lines at hospitals.

"With other competitors in the market directing patient referrals, health systems will be forced to either redefine their operational models to hyper-focus on patient experience and outcomes to maintain market share or establish formal partnerships with these other organizations to maintain referral pathways and levels," he told Becker's. "While this seems like a mildly depressing business-minded change, it will also coincide with a shift in mindset to focus on an 'ecosystem of care' that includes both health actors and community agencies addressing all health needs of the patient."

Beth Steele, MSN, RN, COO of Owensboro (Ky.) Health Regional Hospital also sees new opportunities with community organizations and partners to fill gaps in the current healthcare system.

"Community partners, qualified collaborators, and non-traditional pairings will likely be needed to tackle the rising concerns for managing mental health, substance abuse, and workplace violence amongst the operational challenges like workforce and rising expenses," she told Becker's.

Vi-Anne Antrum, senior vice president and chief nursing officer of Cone Health in Greensboro, N.C., believes payers will be important partners for health systems as healthcare evolves for value-based care.

"I believe new partnerships will emerge as more and more players enter niche aspects of the market. The niche players cannot provide comprehensive care and will need partners at health system to effectively manage their desired portion of care," Ms. Antrum told Becker's. "Additionally, health systems can leverage the trust they have built in the communities they serve to convene community partners and policymakers to drive meaningful change in things like behavioral health and workplace violence."

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